Sure, a fox, coyote, bear or vulture or other scavenger would pick the body. But would a deer eat the decaying remains too?
Sounds absurd, but…
Herein, we report on the first known photographic evidence of deer gnawing human remains. As described in nonhuman scavenging literature, forking of the bone characterizes the taphonomic effect of deer gnawing in this case, which is distinct from the effect caused by other scavengers. This type of osteophagia during the winter season is consistent with previously documented behavior of deer gnawing on nonhuman bone, possibly to obtain minerals absent in their diet.
Popular Science reports that in July 2014 scientists placed a human body in the woods of the 26-acre Forensic Anthropology Research Facility in Texas and set up wildlife cameras near it. (One of the most intriguing things I learned from the POPSCI story is that there are facilities in the U.S. dedicated to studying the decay of donated human remains, and sometimes their work involves leaving corpses outside to rot in order to better understand what happens during and after decomposition.)
On 2 different days in January 2015 they got 2 different pictures of a young deer standing near the carcass with a rib bone “sticking out of its mouth like a cigar.” They can’t say for sure if it’s the same deer, but studying the cam images it looks like it to me.)
The images are the first documented evidence of a deer scavenging human bones, likely to get a taste of phosphorus, salt, and calcium.
The treasure trove of whitetail data that we continue to amass here on BIG DEER is amazing!
(Deer photo credit U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service)